Have You Heard of Molokai? This Remote Hawaiian Island Is a Nature Lover’s Paradise

Here's how to spend a perfect day on Molokai, Hawaii's fifth-largest island.

Halawa Bay, Molokai Hawaii

Halawa Bay, Molokai Hawaii. Photo by Karl Weatherly/Photo Images/Canva

By Amanda Ogle

Feb 17, 2022

AH HAWAII, — THE LAND OF LUAUS, mai tais, too-good-to-be-true beaches, and so much more. Full of beauty and culture, it’s easy to make memories that last a lifetime here, especially with lots of resorts and activities to choose from. But for a taste of rural, remote Hawaii, hop over to Molokai, a short, 25-minute flight from Maui. Lush Mokio Preserve, dramatic Oloupena Falls and amazing schools of sea turtles await.

At 61 kilometers long and 16 across, Molokai is Hawaii’s fifth-largest island. It’s home to a population of about 7,400 people, and the residents here, largely native Hawaiians, all strive to preserve their land and way of life. The island usually only sees approximately 25 to 30 travelers a day, giving visitors a chance to explore without fighting throngs of tourists. Here, there are no large resorts, no over-touristed beaches, and essentially no commercial vibes. With the world’s highest sea cliffs, Hawaii’s tallest waterfall, and the state’s longest continuous fringing reef, this is rugged Hawaii at its best.

Here’s how to spend the perfect day on Molokai.

Do some voluntourism at Mokio Preserve.

Courtesy of Molokai Land Trust (2)

Spanning 695 hectares, the Mokio Preserve is a nature lover’s paradise. It’s currently being rid of invasive species and replanted with native Hawaiian plants, thanks to the Molokai Land Trust. Visitors can work with the organization to do some voluntourism, helping them to replant native species, pull weeds, and water, among other outdoor activities. The views here are stunning, with around eight kilometers of rugged shoreline cliffs, remnant native coastal strand and dune ecosystems, seasonal wetland, and ancient Hawaiian sites. Mokio Preserve is also home to seabirds like the albatross, which has suffered greatly in finding nesting sites due to rising sea levels, and the endangered Hawaiian yellow-faced bee, which burrows into small cavities in the ground across the preserve and helps native plants thrive through pollination.

Try Molokai hot bread.

No visit to Molokai is complete without trying hot bread. For decades, locals have lined up at night in the lit alley behind Kanemitsu’s Bakery for a huge roll of hot bread, cut in half and slathered with your choice of cream cheese, butter, cinnamon, sugar, or strawberry or blueberry jam. It’s a tradition to share the loaves with family or a date, and there are no utensils — everyone picks at the loaf with their fingers for a true Molokai treat.

Send your loved ones coconut mail.

Why send a typical postcard when you can mail a coconut? At the Ho’olehua Post Office, Post-A-Nut has been around since the 90s, and today, more than 50,000 coconuts have been sent from Molokai across the globe. Choose a coconut from the bins and decorate it with the colorful pens provided. Then, address it, add some stamps, and the coconut will be sent out for delivery. (The coconut is free, you just pay shipping.)

Get outside.

With 141 kilometers miles of coastline, Molokai has some stellar outdoor activities on offer. It’s home to Hawaii’s longest pier, Kaunakakai Harbor, and the water here is clear enough to see sea turtles swimming. Head out for a canoe ride with the Wa’akapaemua Canoe Club and race other teams around the bay. And don’t forget to watch for fish and sea turtles lazing beneath your boat.

On the north side of the island are some of the highest sea cliffs in the world, towering between 1,097 to 1,188 meters above the ocean. These can be seen via a helicopter tour, on a flight from Maui to Molokai, or from the overlook at Palaʻau State Park. Oloupena Falls, the tallest in Hawaii, measures some 900 meters and may also be seen from the air.

Molokai is also home to Hawaii’s longest continuous fringing reef — a coral reef close to the shore. At 45 kilometers long, it’s home to finger coral, stony coral, green sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, and reef fish, making it a great spot for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Have lunch and drinks with a view.

Courtesy of Paddlers Restaurant (2)

Looking for a place to enjoy a cocktail or some lunch? Check out Hotel Molokai, a favorite for locals and visitors alike for more than 50 years. The property and its restaurant have modern amenities, yet blend in the old-school Hawaii vibes with Polynesian style bungalows and great food. The oceanside Hiro’s Ohana Grill makes a tasty mai tai and serves fresh seafood specials every day. You can’t go wrong with the ahi poke bowl paired with a salad and papaya seed dressing. Another great option is Paddlers Restaurant and Bar, with a full bar and delicious grub.

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